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AmeriCorps VISTA

Cider Pressing Preserves Fall Apples on Vashon

11.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site

Sam Carp is a Harvest Against Hunger VISTA and Harvest For Vashon Program Coordinator for the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank and Food Access Partnership on Vashon Island, WA. The Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank services approximately 1 in 10 people on Vashon, or about 1,000 people a year, and recognizes that one of the most serious needs its customers have is finding affordable access to fresh produce. As such, Sam works with a range of programs to bring in more island grown food to offer Food Bank customers.

Ahh it’s finally fall, a time many would call the most wonderful season of the year. The air is turning crisp, pumpkins, squash, and garlic abound, the leaves are changing colors, and… apples are everywhere! This has been an especially fruitful (pun intended) year for Washington fruit trees, and on Vashon Island it’s difficult to drive down a street without noticing an apple tree burdened with the weight of beautiful red and green fruit.

As a result of the abundance of fruit on the island, the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank has a received a plethora of fresh, island-grown fruit throughout the late summer and fall. While it’s a special thing for a hunger relief organization to be able to offer so much locally grown produce, the organization has found that it cannot distribute the fruit-mainly apples, pears, and plums-as fast as they are coming in. One way many residents of the island, as well as folks all across Washington, deal with this issue is by pressing the fruit into juice, and that is exactly what Harvest VISTA Sam Carp sought to do with the 30+ crates of apples the Food Bank had waiting in storage.

Working with one of the local cub scout troops, Sam and the Food Bank warehouse manager organized a cider pressing event to be hosted in front of the Food Bank garden. They worked with the Vashon Fruit Club to purchase half-gallon plastic jugs to store the cider, and were able to borrow a Meadow Creature cider press from Dragonshead Cider, a local cidery. With the help of the 10,000 lbs of pressing force supplied by the cider press, and the labor power of the cub scouts and their parents, the team was able to press all of the apples within about an hour and a half. It was a wonderful event, complete with music, snacks, and a view of Mount Rainier, and it will most certainly become a tradition at the Vashon-Maury Community Food Bank for years to come.

 

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Food Bank Staff Offers Many Hands in Harvest

04.10.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA, Brianna Nash, serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Servicing the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, equal to 22,500 meals a day. Along with 41 partner agencies, Community Food Share distributes food with an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna works as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

“Many hands make light work.”  VISTA Brianna has seen a great deal of volunteer groups make their way through the fields and gardens this season, and this phrase always rings true at the end of a day spent harvesting. In September, Brianna organized many hands from Community Food Share to volunteer at the food bank’s partner gardens – benefiting grower, harvester, and receiver along the way.

Community Food Share’s garden partner, Earth’s Table, grows 100% of its produce –from six large gardens – entirely for Community Food Share and  partner agencies of the food bank. The operation is also 100% volunteer-powered by hardworking garden managers, and a large network of volunteers throughout the community. So far this year the gardens have donated more than 27,000 pounds of food to Community Food Share and its partners.

The first VISTA at Community Food Share thought a great way to give back to these gardens would be to organize a food bank staff volunteer event. In keeping this tradition, VISTA Brianna organized the 2018 staff garden day for an afternoon in September.  During the normally scheduled staff meeting, all available employees made their way out to the garden and got to work! Garden Manager Michele had everyone doing a variety of activities, everything from pulling old squash and cucumber plants to harvesting tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and green beans. 

Not only was this a perfect way to have fun outside with fellow coworkers, but it was also necessary time spent connecting to the core of Community Food Share’s mission in providing healthy and nutritious food.  These kinds of events drive home the message of farm to food bank, plant to plate, garden to grocery (however you’d like to call it) – Community Food Share’s staff walked away with plenty of smiles and (hopefully!) very happy hearts. At the end of the day 13 staff members dedicated 24 hours of time in harvesting 424 pounds of squash, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and beans to be distributed the next three days at the food bank pantry. Many hands made light work!

 

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Gleaning with Refugee Connections

27.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Annie Eberhardt is the third AmeriCorps Vista for the Spokane Edible Tree Project in Spokane, Washington, a branch of Harvest Against Hunger. SETP focuses on coordinating volunteers to glean fruit from trees that would otherwise go to waste.

 

This September, HAHA VISTA Annie made a special partnership in the community. Dedicated to mobilizing volunteers to harvest fruit from unwanted trees, SETP aided in mobilizing refugee citizens to share in the bounty of fresh produce that would have otherwise gone to waste by partnering with Refugee Connections.

 

Refugee Connections is an organization committed to empowering refugee citizens to thrive in the Spokane community. One way of doing this is to see that these community members can get outside to harvest fruits and vegetables, bringing them back to their own communities. Together, SETP and Refugee Connections gleaned 243 pounds of apples and 246 pounds of plums. With buckets, crates, and boxes filled to the brim with the abundant fruit, the produce was taken back to the homes of the refugees. Upon arrival, the community members bagged up the produce for each of the 28 apartment units, feeding approximately 80 people who lived in the community. The volunteers were able to enjoy a sunny morning of harvesting, time spent with friends, and the satisfaction of contributing wholesome food to their loved ones.
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Egg-citing News from Florida: Growing community relationships in local schools

06.09.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Elise Tillema serves at the Society of Saint Andrew (SoSA), a non-profit connecting farmers, agencies, and volunteers to glean produce in central Florida. In 2017 alone, SoSA saved 28,561,789 pounds of produce (86 million servings) with 37,482 volunteers at 5,960 events. Formed in 1979, SoSA serves the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, North & South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia with additional gleanings in the Midwest. In 1995, the Florida Gleaning Project was launched to coordinate gleans and saves over 2 million pounds of produce each year statewide.

Sowing the seeds of change starts at the roots of society. If we seek to end hunger and poverty, arming our youth is the first step. Fostering these relationships can sprout new ones, and introduce positive change into an otherwise challenging system.

An example of this cultivation is East Ridge High school. Located in Clermont, Florida on the outskirts of Orlando, East Ridge has approximately 3,000 students. At first glance, nothing immediately strikes the passerby as remarkable. But past the soccer fields and outbuildings lies a 10,000 square foot garden and classroom. Here teachers, students, and community members work to not only teach, but empower and feed.

Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Elise Tillema and her host site the Society of Saint Andrew have joined that mission, caring for the garden in the summer months. Students and staff grow organic produce such as eggplant and tomato, in addition to caring for cattle at the facility. Not only do students learn on the field first-hand, but the produce grown goes back into their community. During the school year, East Ridge pupils take home the fruits of their labors free of charge. However, during breaks there are no students to tend the fields, and the crops went to waste. So over the summer months, SoSA took the helm to distribute over 2 thousand pounds food for the needy at local agencies. This collaboration culminated in a local news story, and continues to this day.

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Community Outreach at the Island County Fair

30.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

 

One of the hardest but most rewarding parts of serving as a VISTA member is finding new volunteers, especially for someone with no prior experience in community outreach! In a relatively small, rural community like South Whidbey Island, where most news travels by word-of-mouth and networking is done through friends and family, it takes time to build a solid group of regular volunteers.

 

As part of the 2nd year VISTA project at Good Cheer Food Bank & Thrift Stores, VISTA members Brandi and Izzy set up an information table at the Island County Fair in Langley, held at the end of July. Because information booths can easily become overlooked background noise to fair-goers, they decided to add an interactive component – tasting samples! Using products made in the Good Cheer kitchen, including fruit leather, herb salt, and kale chips, along with a simple, informative display that included recipes, coloring sheets for the kids, and lots of photos, the two VISTA members got to spend three days talking to visitors and island residents – young and old – about Good Cheer and the Gleaning Program. Many people were familiar with Good Cheer’s thrift stores, an island mainstay, but not as many people knew about the food bank and the fruit tree gleaning program.

 

The fruit leather and kale chips were a huge hit, along with the printed recipes for each that were available for folks to take home. The fair was also a success as a community outreach campaign with more than a dozen new volunteers and tree donors signing up to join the gleaning program. Many local residents also took information about donating to Good Cheer; in-kind donations of fruit and veggies from home gardens, dropped off at the food bank by generous community members, accounts for a large part of the fresh produce offered at the food bank during the growing season.

 

More meaningful than the number of volunteers and donors who signed up were the many conversations with people who stopped to visit the Good Cheer booth. Kids trying fruit leather (like a fruit roll-up without the added sugar), long-time island residents expressing their love for Good Cheer as a part of the South Whidbey community, home gardeners and fruit tree owners who shared experience or knowledge about tree care and pest prevention, island visitors who stopped to chat and share their excitement at visiting Whidbey, all showed the importance of putting community into community outreach. Building connections with the people around us makes us all stronger in the end.

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The Palouse Tables Project Collects Feedback on Regional Vision for Food Security

23.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Michelle Blankas, serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and community food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and Basic Food. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and Harvest Against Hungers AmeriCorps VISTA. Michelle Blankas and Joe Astorino of the Community Action Center took shifts reaching out to Pullman Community members at the Annual National Lentil Festival to gather feedback on a regional vision for food security.

 

On Friday, August 17, 2018, the Palouse Tables Project tabled at the Annual National Lentil Festival in Pullman, WA. The HAH VISTA collected community input from about 50 individuals that ranged from high school and university students to families and the elderly.

 

Earlier this year, a community food security meeting took place in Pullman that engaged the public on what worked well in the community and what were the dreams the community had for the future of food and food security. Because the Palouse Tables Project is a regional assessment and planning project, the dreams collected from all the communities across Whitman and Latah County went through a consistent process of coding and theming. These dreams were coded and themed into two systems:

System 1

System 2

Growing Food

Food System Education and Heritage Appreciation

Sharing and Selling Food

Community Engagement and Leadership
Cooking and Eating Food

Communication and Coordination

Food Waste

Inclusion, Connection, and Community Identity

Transporting and Storing Food

 

A regional vision was then drafted to unite all the coded and themed dreams. This vision concept was called “Regeneration,” to try to capture the diverse nature of these dreams and projects. It was meant to capture everything from restoring the quality of our soil and water, to reconciling our relationship with heritage food, skills, and knowledge, to addressing our stigma against food bank clients and those who rely on food assistance, and many more. These dreams that stemmed from all over the region had a common core theme of regenerating, or restoring and growing in a healthy direction from where we currently are.

 

 

Pullman community members that stopped by the Palouse Tables Project table indicated what part of the food system needed the most “Regeneration.” In the first hour and half, about 50 people participated, shared their point of views, and commented on the concept of “Regeneration.”

 

The next steps in this phase of the project is to replicate this outreach effort at the Palouse Empire Fair, the Latah County Fair, the Palouse-Clearwater Food Coalition Meeting, the Poverty on Palouse Forum, the Pullman and Moscow Farmer’s Markets, several of the food pantry distribution sites across the region, and governing bodies and community stakeholders who would potentially be interested in partnering and working with the community to make these food security dreams come true.

 

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Gleaning with Urban Abundance

17.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Allie Van Nostran serves with Urban Abundance, a project of Slow Food Southwest Washington in Vancouver. Slow Food International seeks to rescue local food traditions and promote “clean, fair food for all.” To this end, Urban Abundance engages volunteers in harvest and stewardship of four community orchards across Clark County. The fresh fruit is rescued from the waste stream and shared with hungry neighbors who need it most.

 

 

Harvest season is well underway in Clark County, Washington! Urban Abundance is hard at work connecting with tree owners, recruiting volunteers and organizing harvest parties to harvest and share fresh fruit. In just two weeks, Urban Abundance has held three harvest events, drawing 25 volunteers altogether. All in all, Urban Abundance has harvested over 800 pounds of fruit, donating over 600 pounds to the Clark County Food Bank and other local pantries. Volunteers are invited to share in the harvest, and buggy/scabby/damaged fruit that can’t be donated is given away, left for wildlife, composted, or donated to the WSU Extension for fruit pest research!

 

 

Volunteers and tree owners have been enthusiastic and appreciative. After a recent harvest event, one volunteer recommended Urban Abundance on Facebook, saying, “What a great concept! Reduce food waste while providing much-needed nutrition to families in Clark County. Can’t say enough about how awesome Urban Abundance is!”

 

 

Another said, “It’s a win-win: good stuff gets donated to food banks and you get to take some home.” 

 

 

One tree owner, who works the graveyard shift, was inside asleep while Urban Abundance volunteers harvested her apple tree. The next day, she texted, “I got off early this morning – still dark – so couldn’t see much, but it *looked* like a lot of apples had been picked. Jaw dropped when I took a look when it got light. Wow! 200 lbs! You guys did a great job, and no, I didn’t hear a thing!”

 

 

Volunteer registration and calls and emails about local fruit trees are pouring in. Pear harvest is in full swing at this point, and Urban Abundance will be holding double daily harvests for the next two weeks to thoroughly harvest two large Bartlett pear orchards in the area. They anticipate many dozens of volunteers and multiple tons of pears for the Food Bank by the time all is said and done! With the support of Harvest Against Hunger, Urban Abundance continues to build community awareness and support for this important project and increase access to fresh, local fruit in Clark County.

 

 

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SETP Learns Surprise Lessons about Gleaning and Golden Plums

09.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

In Spokane, Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Annie Eberhardt has fully welcomed in the presence of plums. All over town, tree owners have been reaching out to Spokane Edible Tree Project with the intention of not seeing their beautiful little stone fruits go to waste. Spokane Edible Tree Project mobilizes volunteers to glean produce from fruit and nut trees that would otherwise go to waste in Spokane county. There are over 140 backyard tree owners and 28 farmers who are registered with the project, all hoping to share the bounty of excess produce with their neighbors who need it most.

Just two weeks ago, a long time registered tree owner of SETP hastily called Annie at SETP Headquarters, urging the SETP Glean Team to come harvest her lush, golden plums – to resuce them from the fate of rotting in her backyard, uneaten. “I have golden plums coming out of my ears,” she insisted. “They are just about to be at perfect ripeness within a couple of days; please come harvest as soon as you can, Glean Team!”

Rushing to diligently make sure these golden plums could find homes with hungry community members in need, Annie quickly banded together a group of employees from a local Spokane office. With the heat wave that has been encompassing the area lately and the significance of tone from the tree owner, there was a sense of needing to hurry.

 

 

The Glean Team met on a sunny morning at the gleaning site, just north of Spokane. They were excited to give back to their community and to take a refreshing break from the office. There was just one problem – most of the plums were not yet close to being ripe! The situation was looked upon by the SETP Glean Team with some humor and some good laughs, as the rushing had become a silly notion for the plums that were still a bit green and firm, with pointed tips at the bottom of the fruit signifying the need for further development. The team gleaned what small amount they could, and left back to the office to await the natural ripening to occur.

Puzzled, Annie researched into this phenomenon, and busted a long-time myth she had always believed – extreme heat does not always mean that fruit will ripen faster! In fact, with most stone fruit, extreme heat causes the fruit to slow down its ripening process in an effort to save the fruit from dropping its seeds in conditions that are not suited to seed germination.   

In the end, the same small group of local volunteers came back a week later with SETP, helping to glean 500 pounds of golden plums from the trees! There was no sense of rushing this time – only the zen satisfaction of being up in a tree, tasting the fresh sweetness of golden fruit, and the sense of peace that comes from participating in work that truly makes a difference.

 

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Clallam Group Loganberry Glean is a Smash!

02.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Volunteering, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Last Wednesday, AmeriCorps VISTA Sharah Truett hosted a raspberry and loganberry group glean.

“What exactly is a loganberry?” was the question of the day.  Gleaners got to taste for themselves that loganberries are a delightful dark purple cross between a raspberry and a blackberry.

The homeowner had an immaculate garden, all organically grown, with not a weed in sight.  It was surrounded by a lush native forest and a rippling creek. The group picked diligently for about 2 hours and got to taste five different kinds of berries.  New gleaners were able to socialize, make friends, and meet others with similar interests.  After the gleaners ate their fill and took a bit home for their own freezers and pie making experiments, the rest of the fruit was transported to different emergency food organizations in the community. Some went to senior nutrition programs, some to the food banks and some to the Boys and Girls Club.  The children at the Boys and Girls Club surrounded the berries like wild hyenas cornering a herd of antelope, with a special hungry gleam in their eyes for the golden raspberries.

Overall it was a stellar day, with much fun had by everyone, and many purple-stained hands and faces all around.  However, one small mishap occurred on the drive to the food bank.  An unexpected pedestrian stumbled out in front of the gleaning van, causing the driver to brake suddenly to avoid them, and a box of luscious, ripe, sun-warmed loganberries spilled to the carpeted floor. Now no longer able to donate these berries due to the large amount of carpet fur clinging to them, yet unwilling to throw them into the compost like a normal person, Sharah took the berries home.  She washed them as best she could, and lovingly served them to her husband as “Hairy-Berry pie”, which he ate with gusto, despite having to stop periodically and pick out bits of carpet fuzz.

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Master Gardeners at Community Food Share in CO

26.07.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Brianna Nash serves at Community Food Share, a member food bank of the national hunger-relief organization, Feeding America. Servicing the Boulder and Broomfield Counties on Colorado’s Front Range, Community Food Share distributed 10 million pounds of food in 2017, equal to 22,500 meals a day. Along with 41 partner agencies, Community Food Share distributes food with an onsite pantry floor, mobile pantry truck, and Elder Share program. 75% of the food distributed by the food bank is fresh produce, dairy, and other high-protein items. Brianna works as the produce and gleaning volunteer coordinator, engaging volunteers in growing and harvesting local produce for the food bank.

In efforts to bolster community engagement with the Garden Share program, and offer more garden support to food bank shoppers, Brianna coordinated two Master Gardener events this summer. Piloting Q&A days, Brianna measured how the general public and food bank shoppers engaged with Master Gardeners that were hosted at the food bank. After organizing a very successful Spring Plant Day in early June – where food bank shoppers were able to take home free plant starts and soil – Brianna wanted to continue building garden resources for food-insecure individuals.

The first event, held in June, hosted two Master Gardeners outside the food bank pantry main doors. The Master Gardeners answered questions and provided input about plant pests, and the inevitable challenges of gardening in Colorado. They also had garden print resources in English and Spanish, which Brianna found through the Los Angeles Master Gardener Extension. Luckily this event was a “test,” and while less than 15 people showed up for questions, Brianna received feedback from the Master Gardeners and planned for the second event.

For the second Q&A, Brianna worked on securing donated seeds – as an incentive and interactive piece for visitor engagement. Last week, with more than 300 seed packets on hand, Brianna and the Master Gardeners set up for a busy morning. The flow of visitors was steady to the Master Gardener table, and people were excited. With signs around the warehouse advertising the event and the seeds (in English and Spanish), many more individuals stopped by the table. Over three hours the two ladies talked to more than 25 food bank shoppers, handing away literally hundreds of seeds in the process! More than 250 seed packets went home with individuals. The Master Gardeners were incredibly helpful in showing people varieties they could plant now and next year.


Not only were many seeds distributed, but specific questions answered as well. Brianna created flyers promoting the event around the food bank shopping area – encouraging participants to visit the Master Gardeners if they had questions. One young boy came prepared. He showed up to the table with a red flower in a small pot, wanting to know what it was. He had seen this flower at a lake near his home, which is quite far from the food bank, and brought it with him on the families’ next visit to Community Food Share. Along with his brother, this young gardener also brought home many seeds for his garden, incredibly excited after a visit with the Master Gardeners.

One of the dedicated gardening volunteers with the Garden Share program, also turns out to be a Master Gardener, and helps with many events at the food bank. The volunteer, Carol, reported back to Brianna that at least 10 people had mentioned the plants that they had received from a Spring Plant giveaway day on June 1st. The Spring Plant Day was the first event Brianna had organized (continuing on with first-year VISTA’s event) with Master Gardeners, and wanted to continue providing their wonderful resources to the gardeners that visit the food bank. After piloting two Q&A days this summer, Brianna is excited to work on a framework for the year-three VISTA, suggesting further partnerships with the Master Gardeners next year, and for many years to come!

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